Art and Architecture, Chapin-Style

Duane Neil’s Class 7 Art class recently had the opportunity to hear from a special visitor, Ms. Sadie Wegner. 

An employee and a valuable team member at NK Architects, who designed the plans for the 30,000 square-foot vertical expansion and existing eight-story renovation currently underway at Chapin, Ms. Wegner is also finishing her Masters at The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Architecture, which is the re-design of the inside of a building after it is stripped.

Always creative, Ms. Wegner wanted to use those skills in her a career. She highlighted for the students that it was her interest in and passion for art that propelled her to consider Architecture. “If you enjoy creativity, you should hold onto that. It is free and liberating,” she commented.

Mr. Neil’s class began the architecture unit by showing students a slide show depicting examples of three different styles of architecture: Romanesque, Gothic and Modern. They discussed the importance of visual style, how a roof is held up and how light enters the building. To best gauge these architectural techniques, students viewed stunning examples of buildings, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water,” The Guggenheim Museum, Notre Dame, and the Woolworth Building; where NK's New York City office is located. 

In advance of Ms. Wegner’s visit, the young artists were asked to design a building that reflects its function. It required an entrance and the ability to see inside. After a period of brainstorming and sketching, students got to work using colored poster board, scissors, glue and their innovative minds to achieve the desired result.

Surrounded by construction, the students’ interest in Chapin’s building was piqued while studying architecture. Ms. Wegner, whose rich knowledge of this particular structure and what it needed to house, was a great resource for the students. They listened attentively as she explained Chapin’s building expansion, which began with an excavation and addition of the Lower Level Dining Room. She described the additional floors that are now framed out, highlighting what will be a new regulation size gym, and using vocabulary like “egress” (emergency exits), “rendering” (a detailed architectural drawing of a design idea for a client) and “section” (an architecture-specific drawing). 

Ms. Wegner was excited to share that the future Hayot Center for Innovation will help to engage students in the study of architecture, as well as a myriad other subjects, with tools including state-of-the-art laser cutters and 3-D printers. 

Ms. Wegner said she considers it “very empowering” to work in a field that tends to be male dominated. Despite the unfortunate “funny looks” she sometimes gets on a job site, she has never been deterred her from pursuing what she loves. She urged students to follow their passions no matter what, saying, “There is no feeling more fulfilling than walking into a building you designed!” 

After her presentation concluded, hands immediately shot up. The curious designers asked thoughtful questions, including some asking how environmentally conscious both Chapin and NK Architecture have been in this building process. “How do you help your carbon footprint?” one student asked. Explaining that NK has their own guidelines in place, she added that New York City as a whole “has an energy code comprising certain regulations that must be met.” According to Ms. Wegner, the goal is to curb carbon emissions for new buildings and major renovations to 100% carbon-neutral (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate) by 2030. She ensured that NK is always mindful of energy implications for all projects.  

Others asked questions about the structure of the new rooftop turf area. “Do birds fly high enough to get into the rooftop?” “How will we not fall off?” Ms. Wegner assured the students that “an architect’s number one job before anything else is to make sure everyone is safe.” She explained that the area’s walls are reinforced with steel and will be enclosed using a mesh netting, to prevent, for example, a ball from going over the edge or a stray bird flying through. 

In pairs, students then proudly displayed their own architectural designs to Ms. Wegner, who provided plenty of positive feedback. One pair exhibited their creation of a school shaped like a pencil that included a rose garden. “Very creative, I love it,” she commented. Other unique project examples included a “Vine screening theatre” encompassing solar panels, a jewelry store built to look like a ring, and an “eco friendly office space,” with a façade depicting a tree, big windows and a helicopter pad.

Ms. Wegner’s engaging presentation enabled the students to see the implementation of art in a real-world example. Each left the discussion with new knowledge and exciting ideas to explore in their next class and beyond.